THE KEEPER OF THE SPRINGS by Peter Marshall
Once upon a time, a certain town grew up at the foot of a mountain range. High up in the hills, a strange and quiet forest dweller took it upon himself to be the Keeper of the Springs. He patrolled the hills and wherever he found a spring, he cleaned its brown pool of silt and fallen leaves, of mud and mold and took away from the spring all foreign matter, so that the water which bubbled up through the sand ran down clean and cold and pure. It leaped sparkling over rocks and dropped joyously in crystal cascades until, swollen by other streams, it became a river of life to the busy town.
Mill wheels were whirled by its rush. Gardens were refreshed by its waters. Fountains threw it like diamonds into the air. Swans sailed on its limpid surface, and children laughed as they played on its banks in the sunshine.
But the City Council was a group of hard-headed, hard-boiled businessmen. They scanned the civic budget and found in it the salary of the Keeper of the Springs. Said the Keeper of the Purse: Why should we pay this romance ranger? We never see him; he is not necessary to our town’s work life. If we build a reservoir just above the town, we can dispense with his services and save his salary. Therefore, the City Council voted to dispense with the unnecessary cost of a Keeper of the Springs, and to build a cement reservoir.
So the Keeper of the Springs no longer visited the brown pools but watched from the heights while they built the reservoir. When it was finished, it soon filled up with water, to be sure, but the water did not seem to be the same. It did not seem to be as clean, and a green scum soon befouled its stagnant surface.
There were constant troubles with the delicate machinery of the mills, for it was often clogged with slime, and the swans found another home above the town. At last, an epidemic raged, and the clammy, yellow fingers of sickness reached into every home in every street and lane.
The City Council met again. Sorrowfully, it faced the city’s plight, and frankly it acknowledged the mistake of the dismissal of the Keeper of the Springs. They sought him out of his hermit hut high in the hills, and begged him to return to his former joyous labor. Gladly he agreed, and began again to make his rounds.
It was not long until pure water came lilting down under tunnels of ferns and mosses and to sparkle in the cleansed reservoir. Mill wheels turned again as of old. Stenches disappeared. Sickness waned and convalescent children playing in the sun laughed again because the swans had come back.
So...have you been neglecting your spiritual spring? Must start with solitude, then go to community, then go to ministry. Often get this backwards!
Characteristics of a Stagnant Pond:
It has nothing flowing in or out.
It becomes overgrown with algae.
It becomes poison.
It is abandoned.
Characteristics of A Running Stream:
It has fresh water flowing in and out.
Its clarity and its depth are obvious.
It is life sustaining.
It doesn’t stink.
It attracts others who are thirsty and hungry.
Must start with being filled up to overflowing!
Drinking at the springs of living water, Happy now am I, My soul they satisfy; drinking at the springs of living water, O wonderful and bountiful supply
Unfortunately many Christians are dry or stagnant, not drinking from the spring of living water
Thesis: 6 common characteristics of stagnant Christians
1. They prefer information over obedience
I know in our day there is biblical ignorance. Many need to study the Word. However, directing my comments to those who know a great deal of the Bible. “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” 1 Corinthians 8:1, NIV.
“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” James 1:22, NIV.
“When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’”” Matthew 2:4-6, NIV. Seems like they would want to go to Bethlehem and find out but no!
Know a man who was a new Christian and he grew frustrated with the sermons. Preacher gave much application but saw no one doing anything. Why have sermon if no intention of obeying?
““Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.” Luke 11:42, NIV.
What the Pharisees were doing was giving a tenth of all their produce right down to the spices and herbs in their gardens. The tithe is good but they were neglecting larger issues of justice and the love of God. They were focussed on their religious practice but not on treating people with justice or treating God with love. It is a terrible thing when religious practice becomes an end in itself and neglects relationships with people and a love relationship with God.
2. They are increasingly proud of their own righteousness
“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men--robbers, evildoers, adulterers--or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”” Luke 18:9-14, NIV.
One of the sad ironies of “religion” is that “religious” people are often among the least loving! They find it difficult to love those who do not attain to their own standards of righteousness. They view with contempt those who do not “measure up.” Self righteousness breeds contempt for others. God has little patience for and will not welcome those who trust in their own righteousness. He will, on the other hand, welcome those who trust in His righteousness. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21, NIV. While the Pharisee proudly acknowledged his distance from the tax collector, he failed to see his distance from God. “he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” Titus 3:5, NIV.
“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags...” Isaiah 64:6, NIV.
3. They are caught up in the comparison game
““Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted in the market-places and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely.”” Luke 20:46, 47, NIV.
Many things here but pride is at the heart of this condemnation. Pride gets its pleasure not from having something but from having more of it than the next guy. People aren’t proud of being rich or famous or having accomplished career or athletic goals. They are proud of being richer, more famous, and having accomplished more than others around them.
4. They settle for external righteousness
““Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.” Matthew 23:25, 26, NIV.
Jesus is using an object lesson. Inside corresponds to our hearts. The outside corresponds to our outward appearance. From the outside looking in they looked great, but their hearts were a mess. Must come from the inside out.
One of the most famous lines in all of literature is from William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” Lady Macbeth directs her husband to murder Duncan. Later, she is consumed by her guilt. She awakes and washes her hands, but she can’t get rid of the stain. In those famous words she cries, “Out spot: out I say! Will these hands never be clean? Here’s the smell of blood still; all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.” You’re right, Lady Macbeth, soap, water and perfume won’t do it. But thank God, the Bible says, “The blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” 1 John 1:7, NIV.
5. Because of all of this, they have contempt for lost people
“Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering round to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners, and eats with them.”” Luke 15:1, 2, NIV.
““Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him.” Luke 15:25-28, NIV.
Long time residents in the church building face a similar temptation: to become proud of our service record and to judge those who don’t seem as committed. We have been entrusted with the gospel. With privilege come responsibility. Because we have experienced God’s grace and power, we are better equipped to model the Father’s love to the prodigal. “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience...?” Romans 2:4, NIV.
6. Lack of vulnerable, transparent community. Spend next several sessions talking about this.